In the 1990s, a 15-year-old guitarist named Jonny Lang took the blues world by storm releasing the hit album Lie To Me. Lang followed that with three more studio albums, including Turn Around, which scored him a Grammy. Now seven years later, Lang is finally set to release his much anticipated sixth studio album, Fight For My Soul. We spoke with Lang about the writing process for the new album, the direction his sound is heading, and more.
Seven years is a long time between studio albums. Did you write most of the material over that entire time, or did most of it come about in recent years?
It’s a mixture of songs that I’ve had laying around for years and years, and songs that sort of came in at the last minute. So yeah, I mean it is a long space of time to have between studio records, and because of that, really a different process styling it; an album and trying to pick one cohesive sort of thing out of it. But yeah, it worked out. I guess it went as well as it could have. (Laughs)
Did you have any goals for the album or a specific direction you wanted to take when writing the songs?
You know I think each song has its own direction. I didn’t necessarily have a global goal or anything content wise or theme wise or anything like that. It was just sort of the idea of taking each song as its own thing and trying to put that in together in the best way we could.
The lead single “Blew Up (The House)” starts with a blues rock riff and then turns into sort of a Michael Jackson type vibe. How did that song come about?
Whoa, well that’s cool! I never heard anybody say Michael Jackson about that one, but that’s awesome! I love Michael Jackson! I produced the record with Tommy Sims and wrote a bunch of the stuff with him as well and so he brought that song in. We kind of had that one partially written, sort of at the last minute of the recording process. And we finished it up and recorded it. Again, with that song it was just like, OK, cool, that sounds good. Let’s record it! Not much thought went into it. (Laughs)
Were any songs on the album particularly difficult to put together?
There were a couple that I chased and I have been chasing for years and years. And just because what I heard in my head wasn’t quite being fulfilled yet. (Laughs) And there’s a couple on there that I almost gave up on mostly because I didn’t think they should even be on one of my albums because they’re so different than what people may have expected, which is really just kind of the story of this album in general. It’s a bunch of songs that I probably wouldn’t have put on a record in years past because of the reason I just said. But yeah, the song “Seasons” is one of those. Basically Tommy made me put that on the record. (Laughs) I don’t think I would have necessarily had the guts to put that one on if he hadn’t of done that.
How did you decide on Fight For My Soul as the album title?
Well, I keep telling myself that I’m never gonna name the record after one of the songs on the record but it just keeps happening. (Laughs) I don’t know, I think I try to think of some clever title or something but I just can’t figure it out, so I end up defaulting. But I felt like Fight For My Soul summed up the record as well as anything could have, just kind of where I’ve been in the past ten years or so, five to ten years, and my journey, and a lot of what I’ve sort of gone through in life in that amount of time is in these songs. So I felt like Fight For My Soul summed it up pretty good.
Do you have a favorite track on the album?
Oh man, you know I think I’m most proud of the song “I’ll Always Be” and the song “Seasons.” Those two are the last two on the album. Just from a songwriting standpoint they were satisfying to be able to finish those and also to sort of get out the orchestration that I had wanted to get in those songs, which is something I’ve never really done on a record before, strings and a little bit more of an intricate arrangement. So yeah, I think those two are pry the ones that stand out for me because… accomplishing something a little different I guess.
With more young artists emerging in blues that are taking the genre in different directions like yourself and guys like Gary Clark Jr., do you think more old school blues purists are beginning to embrace the blues evolving as a genre?
I don’t really know if this record reflects blues as a genre all that well. And even though of course my guitar playing influences are blues guitarists and that will always be in there, and I guess you’ll always hear that when I play guitar, but as you mentioned the older school guys I’m kind of prepared for it to be a bit of a disappointment to them. (Laughs) I hope it’s not. I hope they can dig it, but yeah, I mean it’s not your standard blues record where the song is sort of built around the solos and as you can tell listening to most of the record, there’s moments where you can say hey that’s a blues guitar guy there, but yeah it’s pretty different from that. I’d say Gary Clark definitely represents what you are talking about better (Laughs). His albums are just really well thought out; brilliant sort of imaginative takes on a modern version of blues. I’m a huge fan of his.
You’re in the midst of a world tour. What can fans expect who go out and see your live show?
Well, the band is the group of guys that I’ve had for years now. And different guys have been in the band for a differing amount of times, but it’s the band that’s on the record. These guys are the greatest musicians that I’ve ever played with anywhere and I’m not just saying that because I know them and they’re friends of mine. They really are just crazy, crazy geniuses and I’m very lucky to have them. And also we get along well, which never happens. (Laughs) You don’t ever get both, so I’m just very blessed to have them and it’s a really energetic, inspired live show. Nothing is the same twice.
Interview by Pete Francis